THE DAY AN ASPARAGUS SAVED NINEVEH
One of the most sacred religious festivities in the Assyrian liturgical calendar (shared by all Assyrian denominations) is the Rogation of the Ninevites (see 15 February 2000, 25 January 1999, & 27 January 1997). According to the Bible, God commands Prophet Jonah to “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” (Book of Jonah- Old Testament). Instead, Jonah runs away and on his way to Tarshish (modern Spain), and is swallowed by a great fish, where he stays for three days. He finally obliges and travels to Nineveh, speaks of God’s plans, and soon the inhabitants of this city repent indiscriminately: “Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.”
The VeggieTales Videos is a collection of more than a dozen 30-minute animation videos that teach Christian morality to very young children by telling Biblical stories through the adventure of a family of googly-eyed vegetables. Since 1993, 15 VeggieTales videos have sold over 30 million copies.
Now a full-length feature VeggieTales film under the title of " Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie" aims to reach a new audience of mainstream adult moviegoers. The timing of the release could not be any manipulative, just as the American public discussions on the necessity of going to war with the ancient homeland of the Assyrians is heating up around the world. The theme of “Jonah” is simple: how can we show mercy and compassion to other people - even bad guys. Bad guys, in this case, being Assyrians.
How about taking your 4 year-old to a movie theater near you and let her discover for herself how an Asparagus (Jonah) saves the bad guys (Assyrians) with the help of his friend, Larry the Cucumber?
As innocent as this may sound, the screening of such large-scale movie production may leave a very negative impression on our Assyrian children, and enforce a feeling of inferiority when identifying with the “bad guys of Nineveh”. What should we do then? In short, begin by demanding a public apology from the officials of the studios distributing this film and to the producers of the VeggieTales Videos.
Assyrians naturally want to have a sense of positive identity portrayed in the media when such names as “Nineveh”, “Assyria”, “Gilgamesh” and so on appear on the silver screen. When carefully examined, the film “Jonah” teaches our children nothing differently from what the Christian scriptures have for the past 2,000 years. The Bible tells us that Jonah was sent to save a godless, adulterous, and unrepentful people in Nineveh. Biblically-speaking, the Ninevites were “the bad guys” and Jonah was the “good guy” called upon Yahweh on this important mission to save the fish-slapping veggies in Bet-Nahrain. Two thousand years of misinformation and historic inaccuracy is finally catching up with us and is blowing onto our rosy faces in mega-size proportion with a group of vegetables saving our Great City of Nineveh.
In spite of becoming a target of enormous negative attention in many religious circles, especially those who know little about the factual Assyrian history, this magazine believes that to criticize the film “Jonah” one must also criticize the story of Jonah in the Bible. The name “Jonah” and his big fish do not appear in any ancient Assyrian documents found in Mesopotamia or around Nineveh. The Assyrians of the ancient world were no more brutal than the Israelites entering the Canaan after 400 years of captivity in Egypt, Hittites attacking the city of Babylon, or the Medes’ conduct against the Assyrians in 612 B.C. Since the authors of the Old Testament were at times enslaved by the monarchs of the Assyrian Empire, it is reasonable to expect a certain skewed reality in describing their captors.
Let’s not be too quick to judge the film “Jonah” though. Instead, let’s be more concerned about what our children are taught about our past history in our churches and Sunday Schools. “Jonah” challenges our expectations and makes us uncomfortable. If we were indeed the “bad guys” of the ancient world, as our pastors preach to us at every Rogation of the Ninevites sermon, then this animation film’s ghastly depiction of Assyrians must not evoke any ill-feeling. If the contrary is true, then a thorough examination of our Churches’ teachings deserves our immediate attention.
The story of an asparagus saving Nineveh is no more fantastical
than a big fish eating a man and regurgitating him after three
days. Whether it’s a vegetable or a Jewish prophet that
saved the most important city of the ancient world does not behoove
our attention, rather knowing that virtually every characterization
of the ancient Assyrians in modern media, school books, Sunday
School material, and our own churches is negative and harmful
to our children’s self-identity. The most effective way
to counter such falsifications is to present our own videos, teaching
materials, and films on the big screen.
Seafood salad, anyone?
KING MAS’UD (1284-1289)
The Assyrian of today wishes to make himself known. He searches for his living memories, keys to his cultural, ethnic, and political identities. The Syriac Chronicles are a good source to the understanding of his History. For instance, the Assyrians, sometimes, complain to have had no king in the Christian era. However, during the Mongolian Empire they had a great king in Mâwsil (Mosul), a Mesopotamian city. He name was Mas’ud and this is his story.
The Mongols in the Thirteenth Century
The Christians of Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor had waited for the arrival of the Mongols, hoping for an improvement of their condition. They expected great changes: no longer to be considered “Dimmi”, or lesser citizens. As the believers of the others religions, they met considered themselves equal to the King of Kings in the Khanat where they encountered greater tolerance. Correspondence was established with China and with Europe. They lived under the first Il-Khans of Persia for a peaceful and prosperous period. They built churches, spread some missions, increased their literary productivity.
The story of King Mas’ûd is inspired by “The Chronography”
written by Gregory Abû’l–Faraj (1226-1286), a doctor,
a patriarch, a great Syriac writer. He lived in the court of the Mongols.
He is known to Europeans as Bar Hebraeus.
Mas’ûd Bar Kâwtî‘s Reign
In the year A.D. 1276, under the reign of Abâkâ (1265-1282), the son of Hûlâkû and the Il-khan of Persia, Mas’ud of Bar Kawtâh’s rule was established. He was the son of a rich, Christian trader who traveled on a caravan to Pekin (modern Beijing) in China and visits the great Kûblâi Khân. The trader was accompanied by his sons and by Amîr Ashmût, a man from the tribe of Ighûrâyê, who led an ascetic life:
“At this time, ‘A’lâm Ad-Din Ya’kûb, a great merchant and a Christian, a native of Bar Kawtâh, a village in the country of ‘Arbîl, returning from an homage to Kûblâi Khân, died on the road in the country of Khôrâsân. Then ‘Ashmût, the ambassador who was appointed [to go] with him, who was himself a great man and an honourable man of the race of the Ighûrâyê (1), and who led the ascetic (or monastic) life, took his sons and brought them to do homage to the King of Kings ‘Abâkâ. And the King of Kings received them kindly, and he made Mas’ûd, the eldest son, ruler over Mâwsil and ‘Arbîl; and ‘Ashmût became the administrator of the Amîr. ”(2)
The Government of Mas’ûd
Governor Ma’sûd had soon to deal with the Kurdish neighbors in the mountains who, since 1260, had been attacking the Christians villages of the region.
On 7 June, in the year 1277, the Kurds made a new raid against the western Syrian monastery of Mâr Matta, near Mâwsil, and kidnapped the monks.
The next year, the troubles and the rivalries began. Ma’sûd was libeled by the Persian Nasir al-Din Pâpâ, the former governor of Mâwsil. Ma’sûd and Asmût were dismissed after a board of inquiry. Pâpâ ruled over Mâwsil in their place.
Mas’ud and the noble Ashmut accused Pâpâ and his judges of corruption. In the year 1280, they went to Abâkâ Khan and asked him to reopen the inquiry which lasted one month.
Papa the traitor was executed around the same time that a Persian, Jelâl Ad-Dîn Tûrân on August 8, was beheaded and whose head was brought to Mâwsil and exhibited.
In the summer A.D.1281, the Persians of the house of Jelâl Ad-Dîn Tûrân and of the house of Pâpâ stirred up a quarrel against Mas’sûd . They claimed that he had carried off a great quantity of the treasure from Jelâl Ad-Dîn’s gold and precious stones. Mas’ûd was arrested, tortured, and condemned. He was brought back to Mâwsil but fled by night.
Ma’sûd, King of Mâwsil
In the year A.D.1284, Arghôn, the son of Abâkâ, sat on the throne of the King of Kings. He did not forget his friends.
In the year A.D. 1286, on the 17 day of the month of June, four thousand mounted robbers and brigands, Kûrds, Tûrkmâns and Arabs, and three hundred horsemen from the Egyptian slaves, gathered together and went to the country of Mâwsil. They spoiled the villages along the road, and finally burst upon the city at dawn.
The marauders brought the spoil from the city all day long, they looted and robbed the whole of the people. They plundered Mâwsil‘s commercial districts and took by leaving 500 slaves. Ma’sûd, in the citadel, had not been able to prevent this looting.
The Death of Ma’sûd
Arghôn appointed a treasurer, Amîr Bôkâ, for his service who boasted of his power. The others Amîrs, his opponents, complained against him. Bôkâ began to concoct a rebellious secret against Arghôn. Ma’sud neglected the submission and obedience to those Amîrs who were permanently in the Royal Service:
Bôkâ who had acted treacherously against the king, was arrested. This could land Ma’sûd much difficulties, for he was not helped by the others Amîrs. The Mongols set guards over the king of Mâwsil.
Hereupon Ma’sûd’s story finished sadly; his monarchy lasting only five years.
1 Ighûrâyê, one of the Mongol tribes.
The kings of the Huns (Tâtârs)
[Dr. Yousif is
a regular contributor to Zinda Magazine. Visit the Archives
section to view Dr. Yousif’s past articles.]
NACHIRVAN BARZANI ON THE ASSYRIANS IN NORTH IRAQ
Courtesy of the Turkish
Daily News (17 October)
Mr. Barzani explained that the since 2001, there have been two new Directorates of Education, one for Turkmen and one for Assyrians. These Directorates administer the educational programs of the Turkomen and Assyrian communities.
In North Iraq a complete educational curriculum is offered to grades one through twelve in the Assyrian (Syriac) language. By the beginning of 2002, 625 Assyrian teachers were instructing 8,359 students at 34 Assyrian schools. New school text books continue to be translated into Syriac and printed in large numbers and made available to these Assyrian students.
Mr. Barzani futher commented that: “In the general community, Assyrians and Turkomen take part in all aspects of life. They have educational, cultural, and sports associations, form their own trade unions, and have established many political parties. They publish, in their own languages, books, magazines, and newspapers that are available for sale in the local markets. These communities broadcast radio and television programs in the region in their own languages as well. Assyrians and Turkomen form a vibrant part of the overall community of Iraqi Kurdistan."
Barzani continued to say: "Within the Kurdistan Regional Government, there are one Turkmen and three Christian cabinet ministers. Christian parties hold five seats in parliament. The Iraqi Turkomen Front refused to participate in both the 1992 election as well as the 2001 municipal elections. Many people from minority communities, Assyrian, Chaldean, Turkomen and Armenian, live in cities and towns under the control of the central government. No accurate statistics exist about their population numbers."
Barzani also answered a question related to the reports of Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) on Kurdish repression of Assyrians and said: "We have experienced a few isolated incidents, from which no country or community in the world is immune, and the victims have come from all walks of life and all ethnic and religious groups. There are unfortunately small groups of malcontents who allow themselves to be used by foreign organizations to forward their own interests and from time to time this has caused problems in the region. The opinions of these groups are not, however, representative of views held by the majority of minority communities living in the region."
[For a list of AINA releases visit: http://www.aina.org/releases/allreleases.htm]
ASSYRIAN WOMAN AMONG THE AUSTRALIAN VICTIMS OF THE BALI BOMBINGS
(ZNDA: Sydney) According to an unofficial list of the dead, missing, injured Australians following the bomb blast in Bali, Indonesia last week 30 Australians have been confirmed dead and 140 Australians remain unaccounted for including an Assyrian, Miss Christina Betmilik. At press time Zinda Magazine was unable to obtain further information about Ms. Betmilik’s residence in Australia.
The car bomb that exploded on the resort island of Bali on Saturday killed more than 180 people — most of them Australians — and forced Indonesia's government to acknowledge for the first time that al-Qaeda is active in the southeast Asia.
REPORT WARNS CONDITION OF TURKEY’S ASSYRIANS IS NOT IMPROVING
(ZNDA; Washington) According to the International Religious Freedom
Report 2002, released 7 October by the Bureau of Democracy, Human
Rights, and Labor: “there was no no significant change in the
status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered
by this report. Some Muslims, Christians, and Baha’is faced
some restrictions and occasional harassment, including detentions
for alleged proselytizing or unauthorized meetings.”
The Report describes the religious demography of Turkey’s religious minority groups as the following: “There are several other religious groups, mostly concentrated in Istanbul and other large cities. There are an estimated 50,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 25,000 Jews, and from 3,000 to 5,000 Greek Orthodox adherents. These three groups are recognized by the Government as having special legal minority status under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. There also are approximately 10,000 Baha'is, as well as an estimated 15,000 Syrian Orthodox (Syriac) Christians, 3,000 Protestants, and small, undetermined numbers of Bulgarian, Chaldean, Nestorian, Georgian, and Maronite Christians. The number of Syriac Christians in the southeast once was high; however, many Syriacs have migrated to Istanbul, Europe, or North America.”
According to the Report, the Office of Foundations (Vakiflar Genel Mudurlugu), regulates the activities of non-Muslim religious groups, churches, monasteries, and religious schools. There are 160 "minority foundations" recognized by the Vakiflar, including Greek Orthodox (approximately 70 sites), Armenian Orthodox (approximately 50), and Jewish (20), as well as Syrian Christian, Chaldean, Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian, and Maroni foundations.
On other religious restrictions, the Report says:
(ZNDA: New Britain) Mary Yaghobian of New Britain died Tuesday, 15 October. She was 74. Mary was born in Iran and lived in New Britain since 1990. She was a member of St. Thomas Church of the East in New Britain.
She is survived by two sons, Edison Betzomayeh of San Jose, Calif., and Edmond Betzomayeh of West Hartford; two daughters, Esther and Helen Betzomayeh, both of New Britain; three brothers and a sister in Iran; four grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews. Her husband, Mooshie Betzomayeh, is deceased.
Funeral services will be held Thursday at 10 a.m. at St. Thomas Church
of the East, Cabot Street, New Britain. Burial will be in St. Thomas
Cemetery. The Carlson Funeral Home, New Britain, is in charge of arrangements.
: MARC C. SARGIS
SPECIAL ZINDA DISCOUNT FOR ASSYRIAN STUDENTS AT NARSAI’S TASTE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN
Zinda Magazine and the Assyrian Aid Society of America are pleased to announce a special offer to the Assyrian university students wishing to attend the "Narsai's Taste of the Mediterranean" fundraiser hosted by the Assyrian Chef and Radio Personality, Mr. Narsai David at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco on 15 November (see last week’s issue).
This very special fundraiser event will benefit the Assyrian university
students in Arbil, North Iraq. A multi-course dinner will be prepared
by noted chefs of Middle Eastern descent. Miner Family Vineyards and Hanna
Winery will present their wines.
Regular tickets start at $250, but through this special promotion Assyrian university students may attend this event as guests of the Zinda Magazine for only $125. Only a few limited seats are available for this very special offer. Hurry up and reserve your place next to your college friends and enjoy a wonderful night of fabulous gourmet Middle Eastern food and delightful music. For more information write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
LATEST DISCOVERIES AT SABI ABYAD, SYRIA
The kingdom of Hanigalbat appeared in the steppes of northeastern Syria. In around 1250 B.C. the Assyrian king Shalmanassar I decided to annex Hanigalbat to the Assyrian kingdom. He and his successors turned the Syrian steppe into an important part of the Assyrian state. The Euphrates became the official western frontier of the state, but the real border with the fortresses lay about 62 miles to the east, on the Balikh River. In this tumultuous border territory the Assyrian kings built a number of government centers from which they administrated the area.
Many papers were presented at the 48th RAI in Leiden, The Netherlands, (July 1-4), 2002, about the new discoveries at Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria. Four abstracts from four papers are presented here and later a description of the site will be demonstrated.
Prof. M. Verhoeven: “Tell Sabi Abyad II: a Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Village in the Balikh Valley, Syria”
This paper dealt with the recent Dutch investigations at Tell Sabi Abyad II. The eight levels of occupation at the small mound have been dated between ca. 7500 and 6800 cal BC, i.e. in the later PPNB period. One of these levels, level 3, has been excavated extensively, and is the focus of this presentation. Architecture, flint and obsidian tools, the so-called small finds, animal bones and plant remains shall be discussed. The conclusion deals with the wider context and the specific nature of Sabi Abyad II.
Prof. O. Nieuwenhuyse: “The Late Neolithic village at Tell Sabi Abyad”
The excavations at tell Sabi Abyad are yielding a wealth of new, stimulating data concerning the development and the spatial lay out of this Late Neolithic Village. Recent work concentrated on the southeastern part of the village during the earlier stages of the Transitional period between the Pre-Halaf and Early Halaf (ca. 6100-5900 BC). The excavations added a number of characteristic, multi-roomed rectangular buildings and round tholoi to the “Burnt Village” (ca. 6000 BC). The large exposure of the Burnt Village leads to intriguing questions concerning the social organization of the village. Recent excavations at the opposite part of the mound made it possible to look at the village lay out from a broader perspective, and to address topics concerning the size of the settlement through time and the scale of the social interaction going on.
Prof. F. A. M. Wiggermann: “Administration and archives in Tell Sabi Abyad”
During the excavations at Tell Sabi Abyad several kinds of archives were uncovered. A static archive, consisting of sealed judicial documents, was found in stacks, whereas several dynamic archives, among which that of the abarakku, were found in offices or houses. Scattered documents dating from the last limu’s were found at many different places. The find-spots of these archives reflect Mesopotamian administrative practices.
Prof. P. M. M. G. Akkermans: “The Middle Assyrian Fortress at Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria”
Recent work at Tell Sabi Abyad in northern Syria revealed an excellently preserved Middle Assyrian fortress (dunnu), dated ea. 1200 BC. The fortified area was surrounded by a wide and deep moat. Domestic buildings stood nearby. Monumental residences, administrative buildings, living quarters, etc., have been exposed. In-situ finds occurred in all buildings and all rooms therein, and included ceramics, stone implements, metal weaponry and tools, seals and sealing, etc. Hundreds of cuneiform tablets have been found, referring to a wide range of both official and personal activities of a number of high-ranking Assyrian officials, such as grand vizier Assur-iddin and his son (and grand vizier) Ili-ipadda. These top officials were each responsible for the administration and protection of the westernmost province of the Assyrian kingdom.
Tell Sabi Abyad, an Arabic term meaning “The White Boy Mound”, is situated some 50 miles north of the city of al-Raqqa on the western side of the Euphrates River in Syria, towards the Turkish borders. The original Assyrian name of the frontier settlement at Tell Sabi Abyad has not been discovered yet. The fortress is roughly 200 x 200 feet and its walls are about 6 feet wide and 18 feet high.
Some 300 clay tablets were found dating from the Middle Assyrian Empire containing texts of official and personal activities of Assyrian officials at the fortress. Some 50 burial places were discovered at the site and cremated remains were found in jars set inside designated pits. The jars included, besides the remains, much jewelry, precious stones, rings and other valuable pieces. A brewery was established in the fortress to provide the necessary beer for the high officials inside the fortress.
High cultural evidence is obvious throughout the texts provided by the clay tablets and offerings to the temple of Sin were mentioned too. This Assyrian western frontier was not a small settlement, rather enormous and the occupants, whether farmers or soldiers, were Assyrians from Nineveh. The archives show that all the villagers had typical Assyrian names. Cuneiform texts excavated at the site show that it was part of the private estate of a powerful Assyrian: Grand Vizier Ili-ippada, who was a member of the royal family and was allowed to call himself 'King of Hanigalbat'. He usually resided elsewhere, but was there from time to time to make sure things were all right.
The fortress has a number of functions: border fortress, customs office and administrative center for the agriculture in the region. Merchants from the Mediterranean Sea and other visitors from Carchemish were required to pass through this fortress before proceeding to Nineveh.
Although the fortress seems to have been abandoned in the 11th century B.C., but there seems to be signs of re-settlement in later times, which needs to be studied further.
As further excavations are undertaken in north of Iraq, Anatolia and Syria, a certain fact asserts itself deeper and that is that Assyrians had established many settlements outside the Assyrian heartland. This new findings should help yet further in understanding the complexity of the Assyrian administration system. And to those interested in the Assyrian continuity, this new discovery should add further evidence to the fact that the fall of Nineveh did not result in the wiping of the entire Assyrian population.
BAR YOHANNON: FATHER DALE A JOHNSON
Bar Yohanon is the pen name of Dale A. Johnson, a friend of Zinda Magazine and the advocate of furthering Syriac studies and the Syrian Orthodox Church liturgy. On 29 July 1991 Bar Yonanon was ordained Syrian Orthodox priest in Hackensack, New Jersey by His Grace Mor Athanatias Y.Samuel. He has spent a large portion of his adult life studying Syriac texts with an emphasis on the 4th through 6th century monasticism of the upper Bet-Nahrain (Mesopotamia) region.
Bar Yohannon has already served many parishes in America, including
the parishes in Portland, Oregon; Long Island, New York; and Tur-Abdin
villages of southeast Turkey, where our magazine discovered his
love of the Syriac churches and language.
Zinda Magazine is proud to announce Father Dale Johnson’s two books for your reading enjoyment:
Monks of Mesopotamia
Both books can be ordered online at http://www.newglastonbury.org/Books.htm.
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